New Stories

Superhero Resurgence and Diversity

By Tori Phillips

A live-action movie will bring together DC Comics’ top team of superheroes. “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as Batman, is slated for release in 2016. The film will also feature Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Hawaiian actor Jason Moman as Aquaman, and African-American actor Ray Fisher as Cyborg in these characters’ first major live-action appearances. This sets up the two-part “Justice League” movies, which are set for release in 2017 and 2019.

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This is not the first time that multiple characters from comic books have met at the cinema. In 2012, Marvel Comics was successful when “The Avengers” made $1.5 billion internationally. The sequel , “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” is set to release on May 1, and is estimated at $1.9 billion.

Al Thiel, director of Pitt-Greensburg’s Student Activities, has held an avid interest in comic books. He said that he reads comic books, stay up-to-date on superheroes in television and movies, and uses superheroes as a way to bond with his family.

“Superheroes are not just for little boys anymore,” said Thiel. “One thing that I like about superheroes is that I can watch them with my nieces and nephews.”

Comics have always been relevant to pop culture. For example, in the 1960s, the challenges the mutants faced in Marvel’s “X-Men” paralleled Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equal rights.

Thief said he is aware of the social commentary in comic books. One of his favorite examples of comic book diversity is Marvel’s current run on Miss Marvel, a super heroine of Middle Eastern origins. The first issue, released in February 2014, became Marvel’s top-selling digital comic issue.

Thief said he also liked how African-American actor Anthony Mackie, who portrayed Falcon in last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” gave African-American children a hero of their own race.

Interest in superheroes resurfaced in 2000 with the release of the first “X-Men” movie. The $157 million box-office success spawned two sequels, two origin movies on the character Wolverine, and two prequels, with a third in production. The most recent release, “Days of Future Past,” combined characters from different timelines of the franchise and grossed $233 million.

Superheroes have also seen resurgence on television. While the classic 1950s “Superman” and 1970s “Wonder Woman” television shows are still popular today, TV networks have expanded storylines on comic characters. The CW began the expansion when the pilot for “Arrow” premiered in October 2012. In October 2014, a spinoff, “The Flash,” aired. There is speculation that the CW will create another spinoff of “Arrow” and “The Flash” focusing on the heroine Vixen.

ABC released “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in September 2013 and followed its success with “Agent Carter” in January 2015.

In September 2014, FOX debuted its own show “Gotham.” It chronicles the younger life of Gotham Commissioner Jim Gordon and features a young, just-orphaned, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne.

Brandon Levine, a sophomore Psychology major, said, “Origin stories are effective because they give you an insight about how they became the hero or villain they are today. Origins are always fun to know.”

Thiel, on the other hand, said, “TV can offer better origin storytelling because it’s slower, doesn’t require as much time as a film arch, and you can’t explain all of these different characters in one film. You have to show them in different adventures and episodes of development and growth.”

So why do superheroes remain popular among college students and adults?

Levine said, “I think that, as we grow older, things become harder for us. Looking to a superhero like Iron Man or Captain America gives us the possibilities of hope and the idea that someone might be out there actually protecting us.”

Whether Marvel or DC, The Avengers or The Justice League, each superhero and super heroine sparks hope into society, past and present, “for truth, justice, an the American way.”

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